Everyone, Even Our Heroes Suck At Art Sometimes

When I recently started a commission, I felt fairly confident that it would be comfortable and my skills and understanding of painting animals would support me in the creation of the piece. I have presented a beautiful picture of a dog named sweet pea, a beautiful dark-haired smiling dog that had passed away not too long ago. Her parents were looking for a tribute portrait of their departed loved one. They asked me if I would be willing to do so, and I happily accepted. 

The Process

When I started the process of painting this commission, I wanted to keep the integrity of the original photo which, as you can see above, showed part of her leg and part of her body. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the composition as beneficial as it could have been.

My gut told me not to use that composition, yet, I went against my against my gut which later I found to be a major issue. I did find that the composition was more challenging than I would have liked as well as I didn’t think that it showcased the beauty of Sweet Pea.

The second challenge is black-haired animals because it is a challenge to create depth, texture, and to make the artwork not look flat. Again, I felt fairly confident and was going to work more with colored pencils than I was with watercolor. In the end, it didn’t work out in my favor either.


Bad Choices / Challenging Decisions

Furthermore, when I was almost finished with the portrait, I realized that I had made a lot of bad choices and the composition wasn’t going to work.

The mediums weren’t playing together, and generally, it was not a good piece of artwork. And of course, it never feels good when something like this happens, but it does help us remember to listen to our gut and be willing to start again because we are not we’re not perfect.

If you’re able to make every piece of art that you create perfect then you must be a robot and not real.

Feeling Bad

I felt very bad about the start of the original piece especially since it was such an important work of art for a supportive and long-time art supporter of mine.

I felt defeated and took a week off. Mulling it over and over in my head, and trying to resolve and new and fresh way to tackle it again. I figured out a couple of changes that I wanted to make, and was excited and slightly intimidated to try a second time.

I knew it may get there even if I had to do it 75 times, I was going to to get it right. It was going to take practice, dedication, and the willingness to make mistakes so I could find the areas to improve. As a person who loves challenges and loves learning, I was okay with jumping in again.

A New Composition

When I was ready I created a completely different composition. This time I focused on her face and I removed the random almost floating sidearm, the extra part of her body, and ended her face at her purple collar. The collar was a nice accent to create a natural line of ending where it didn’t look like her head was just floating.

I also tried another technique in how I laid down the watercolor and colored pencils. Typically with portraiture, I do numerous full layers of the whole face and I repeat those layers over and over again until I build up the face.


Creating the fur

However, when working with fur in the first version I did the same thing and I found it to not be as effective. Furthermore, when painting animals we are dealing with so much fur, trying to do full layers across a whole piece can be overwhelming and daunting.

When I realized that was not the best way to taken animals and fur for myself, especially black fur, I started to take it into sections. First I did a general watercolor underlayer of the skin/fur tones and then I slowly build up in small sections of the face.

For example, I worked on the ear on the left side, and then I worked into the face by the eye on the same side and continued to move across. This gave me the ability to focus on the small details and not feel so overwhelmed by all the teeny tiny pieces of hair that go into making a pet portrait realistic.

Flower & Bee

In the end, I added flowers and a bee to Sweet Pea. Of course this time it worked out great because the flowers beautifully encircled her head because of the composition.

In the other composition, they looked like they were just thrown in there and didn’t feel complete. Also, my client wanted her to have a bee friend because she loved bees and the old composition there was no great place to put the bee – it would have thrown the composition off even more. In the new composition, it had a perfect place on the right side, a placement by her heart.

This placement noted something that she loved and symbolized she was always close by. That little bee was given enough space to be very important.

What I Learned

During this process, I learned a lot about painting animals but I think what I learned the most is something that I have to keep reminding myself and that is that we can always start again.

We are going to create art that we feel potentially comfortable about and then we mess it up to extreme levels where we feel like we shouldn’t even be artists. Perhaps in the back of our minds, we tell ourselves not to pick up a brush again, to walk away and give it all up.

But remember, basketball players, guitar players, singers, comedians, entrepreneurs, and anybody doing something that they love and have a passion for will make mistakes in their career or their craft.

It’s only human.

A real human experience. 


The one thing that can help you move through that is to remember that everybody messes up, even our heroes make extreme errors that sometimes we judge them for and expect them to fall from grace. We must remember are not perfect.

Our heroes are not perfect, our family isn’t perfect, our work isn’t perfect, our friends are not perfect, our pets are not perfect. We are all imperfect creatures working together to live on a planet and to live the best life that we can.

We are all just doing our best. So take the time to give yourself the freedom to start again. You can start your artwork over or you can start your day over or you can even start your career over.

There’s no limit to what we can start over in life, even in this very minute that you’re reading this sentence.

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